Roald Dahl’s words and stories of adventure, magic and bravery have been entertaining children for seven decades. Born in Wales in 1916, Dahl worked for Shell Oil and the Royal Air Force (RAF) at the outbreak of the Second World War before he began to write. Following an air accident in 1942, Dahl could no longer fly and so was posted to Washington D.C. to join the British Embassy as assistant air attaché. It was here where British novelist C.S. Forester encouraged him to write about his time in the desert and so in August 1942, Dahl had his first paid piece of writing published anonymously in The Saturday Evening Post as Shot Down Over Libya. From here, his career as a writer began to develop which included writing a book called The Gremlins (1943), his first novel for adults- Some Time Never: A Fable For Supermen– as well as some of his short stories appearing on the American TV series Hitchcock Presents (1957).
The 60s saw the publication of some of his best children’s works such as James and the Giant Peach (1961) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964). Dahl wrote twenty books for children before his death in November 1990 at the age of 74 and his style, flair and imagination continues to inspire and encourage young people around the world.
The prolific writer’s tales have been adapted on numerous occasions for screen as well as stage. Here’s our pick of six must-sees:
- The Witches
The Witches was published in 1983 and tells the story of a young boy and his Norwegian grandmother, and their clashes with England’s most child-loathing witches whilst on holiday. Together, they must stop the grotesque Grand High Witch and her evil plans before its too late.
In 1990, The Witches was released as a film starring Anjelica Huston and Rowan Atkinson. A tale of bravery and magic, it’s an entertaining watch if you’re feeling brave enough!
- James and the Giant Peach
Dahl’s first children’s novel follows a lonely boy named James who lives with his two mean aunts, Spiker and Sponge. He soon befriends the Old Green Grasshopper and boards a giant magical peach along with five other insects on the ultimate trip of friendship and adventure.
In 1996, the novel was produced as an animated film and features the voices of Simon Callow, Richard Dreyfuss, Joanna Lumley and Miriam Margoyles. The novel was also popularly adapted by playwright David Wood and continues to be played across the UK.
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Amongst his many novels, Dahl’s confectionary story is one of his most prominent. Charlie Bucket lives in a small wooden house with his parents and grandparents but dreams of nothing more than adventure and chocolate- especially Wonka Chocolate! When Charlie finds a golden ticket for a tour of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, he doesn’t know is that his life is about to change forever.
Dahl’s novel was adapted into a film in 1971 (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory), starring Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka and again in 2005 (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) starring Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka. The book was recently made into a musical which was written by David Greig and featured music from Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. The show ran from May 2013 until Januray 2017 at the Theatre Royal Dury Lane and will open on Broadway in April 2017 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.
Another of Dahl’s most famous works follows the story of Matilda Wormwood- an extraordinary little girl with magic powers who loves to read. With a family who doesn’t understand her, she soon begins school but is met by the bully-head teacher- Miss Trunchbull. Little does Miss Trunchbull know that Matilda will never be afraid.
Matilda was adapted into a film in 1996 and was directed by Danny DeVitto, who also starred as Mr Wormwood, and is a cult classic. In 2010, The Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Matilda The Musical, with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, opened in Stratford-upon-Avon and transferred to London’s West End that year as well as opening on Broadway in spring 2013.
The BFG (Big Friendly Giant) follows the story of a giant unlike others- one who doesn’t eat people and who can catch dreams! He soon befriends Sophie, the orphan, and they set out to beat the evil giants of the world who do eat people (with a little help from the Queen of England!).
The BFG was adapted into a play by David Wood and premiered in 1991 at the Wimbledon Theatre. More recently in 2016, the story was adapted for the big screen, directed by Steven Spielberg and starred Mark Rylance as The BFG. A must-see if you’re looking for a bit of magic!
- Fantastic Mr Fox
Published in 1970, Fantastic Mr Fox tells the story of Mr Fox and his courageous adventures to steal food for his family. Clever and cunning, Mr Fox is determined that he will never be beaten by the evil farmers, Boggis, Bunce and Bean, along with the help of a friendly badger.
In 2009, Fantastic Mr Fox was released as an animation and was Wes Anderson’s first animated film and film adaption. The film was a triumph and featured the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Bill Murray. Fantastic Mr Fox is definitely worth the watch!
Want to learn more about Roald Dahl? Check out these links:
- Some Roald Dahl craft ideas
- Some Roald Dahl inspired recipes
- Dahl in Theatre
- 12 quotes from Roald Dahl books to live your life by